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Scott P. Richert

Winning the War on Advent

By December 7, 2013

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There has been much talk about the War on Christmas in recent years, and it's hard to deny that objections to the public celebration of Christmas have been on the rise.A fully lit Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar, in front of icons of Saint Stephen, Saint Michael, and Our Lady of Czestochowa. (Photo © Scott P. Richert) Students in public schools have been barred from singing religious Christmas carols and hymns; Nativity scenes that have been placed in town squares for decades have been removed; and even the Christmas tree has come under attack, from renaming it a "holiday" tree to demanding its removal from public places in the name of the separation of Church and state.

But despite it all, Christmas continues to prevail. What has largely been lost, however, is Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.

Ask most people when the Christmas season begins, and they will likely tell you that it starts on the day after Thanksgiving. If they're aware of Advent, they might say that it begins on the First Sunday of Advent. In other words, what is often called "the Christmas shopping season" has become, in many people's minds, the Christmas season. And then the real Christmas season, which runs from Christmas Eve until Candlemas (the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord), simply becomes preparation for the New Year.

But anticipating Christmas in this way not only deemphasizes Advent; it dilutes Christmas, too. So those who are worried about the War on Christmas should also take up arms (metaphorically, of course) to defend Advent.

The easiest way, of course, is to adopt some of the traditional family activities and devotions for celebrating Advent. But there are more public ways to help revive interest in Advent. Instead of greeting your friends with "Merry Christmas" before Christmas Eve, why not wish them a "Blessed Advent"? Most Catholics (even those who do not celebrate Advent outside of Sunday Mass) will understand, and the greeting could become a teaching opportunity for other Christians who do not celebrate Advent. (You could, for instance, print out copies of my article on The Season of Advent in the Catholic Church and distribute them to people who are unfamiliar with Advent.)

If you're planning a Christmas party, either at home or at work, consider holding it at some point during the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas to Epiphany. That helps others to understand that the Christmas season starts, not ends, with Christmas--and, again, it gives you an opportunity to explain to them that Advent is a period of preparation for Christ's Nativity.

Waiting until Gaudete Sunday--or, better yet, Christmas Eve--to put up your Christmas tree can help others who see the tree in your window to understand that Christmas didn't begin after Thanksgiving. And not taking the Christmas tree down until January 7--likely long after your neighbors have tossed theirs to the curb--helps others to understand that Christmas didn't end on Christmas Day.

Similarly, if you decorate the outside of your house with lights, consider using only white lights until Christmas Eve. (In a comment on a reader question about putting up the Christmas tree, Nancy makes a great suggestion: Use purple lights during Advent, to mirror the purple vestments used during the season, as well as the purple candles in the Advent wreath.)

By restoring Advent to its rightful place, we also raise up Christmas, and we increase our sense of joy and expectation as Christmas Day nears.

Do you have any Advent customs that I haven't mentioned above? Please tell us about them in the comments!

(A fully lit Advent wreath with a central Christmas candle on a home altar, in front of icons of Saint Stephen, Saint Michael, and Our Lady of Czestochowa. Photo © Scott P. Richert)

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December 16, 2008 at 10:41 am
(1) Ediltrudis Romero says:

I live in Puerto Rico and here we celebrate the Aguinaldo mass .This is a novena thar starts 9 days before Xmas,and ends with the Misa de Gallo .This mass is the -Xmas mass that is usually at midnight of DEcember 25.
After this we wait for the celebration of the Epiphany -The 3 Kings Day-This is the day children are supposed to receive their presens
The day bofore ,on January 5 in many homes around the island adults celebrate what are called PROMESAS de REYES.These are Siging rosaries that are pased down thu the family usualy thu the oldet child,.The Xmas season for many people does not end until February 2 when many take down the Xmas trees and burn then in honor of the Blessd Virgin of la Candelaria,The catedral in honor of la candelaria is in Mayaguez ,Puerto Rico.

December 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
(2) Fr. John Rickert says:

Thank you for this fine article. Just a quick comment that traditionally, the Christmas season lasted forty days, from Dec. 25 to Feb. 2, the Feast of the Presentation. I am pretty sure that the Vatican still keeps its Christmas tree up in St. Peter’s Square until Feb. 2nd. One other incidental comment: The traditional length of the Christmas season in conjunction with the period of Septuagesima and Lent, and the need for them not to overlap, was the primary reason behind the introduction of the Gregorian Calendar we use today. God bless.

December 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm
(3) Connie Clark says:

When my kids were younger, we had a Jesse tree ornament exchange with friends at the end of November. So everyone had lots of homemade ornaments for their family Jesse trees. It was a good way to encourage my kids to read the Bible, and it gave them some tangible symbols to associate with the Old Testament stories. My only problem with Jesse trees are that they play second fiddle to, or maybe even conflict with, the big decorated family Christmas tree. Our alternative was to hang our Jesse tree ornaments in a window with those little suction thingies. It worked perfectly and made a nice conversation starter for visitors.

December 11, 2012 at 9:43 am
(4) Thomas White says:

Objection: PLEASE spell out the word CHRISTmas… PLEASE never shorten CHRISTmas to Xmas !! Thanks….

December 11, 2012 at 10:12 am
(5) Elle Fagan says:

Thank you for this fine article! MAKE NO MISTAKE – THESE ARE EVIL TIMES – evil times happen and they do not just pass on their own – ACT.
Go online on the subject for a few minutes and inform yourself and be ready to restore and maintain the full and healthy celebrations by all the cultures!

OBSERVE with your family, group , town and nation – as loud and proud as necessary.

The Constitution guarantees the right of all cultures to express their form of celebration and all other cultural expression –

NO LAWS ANYWHERE SUPPORT ATTACKS ON THE CULTURES OF OTHERS. Continue to express legal objection to the atheist attacks on the expressions of the cultures. They are the only ones who attack others as their prime mode of expression, rather than simply celebrate their take on it.

Thanks for this Forum. Merry Christmas

December 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm
(6) S. A. Barton says:

Today I learned that if someone with different beliefs than mine expresses them in public, it is a ‘war’.

Why do you war on me, sir?

Honestly, I’ve known people who have been in war. Have you been shot? Are people leaving IEDs in your yard because of your religion?

Your hysterical hyperbole is deeply offensive.

December 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm
(7) Barbara Mathews says:

I, too, found “War on Advent” a bit much, too. The Roman Catholic priest on Fox finally said this war on Christmas is silly. I think the time has come for Christians to sign a Peace treaty and honor the Son of God and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

December 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm
(8) A Timbrell says:

Please tell all these poor unfortunate people if they dont like our customs to go back to their own country. We will never take Christ out of Christmas.

December 11, 2012 at 10:26 pm
(9) Salvy says:

Only an idiot would make up an imaginary peace treaty and think that’s going to do any good against all these Christian haters these days or any other. It’s good to wish others peace even your enemies and it might even help to turn a few, but tell them about a” peace treaty” and they’ll laugh at you and think your retarded. I think most people get that.

December 10, 2013 at 7:55 pm
(10) mark says:

Another way to make back-fire the “war on Christians” being waged by increasingly- aggressive hate-filled Christo-phobes:
either buy /make ONLY Christmas cards which feature the TRUE meaning of Christmas … sending them to all your friends (Christian and secular alike)
… and include inside each card a hand-made personally-decorated cardboard cutout (to be hung on Christmas Trees) of the Peace Dove with the words across the middle:

“Love, Joy and Peace to all humankind of good will”;
“to be an Apostle of Peace … Love one another as I love you” (Jesus);
“Do good … even to those who hate you” (Jesus);
… meaning: “Only circuit-breakers against hatred are the builders of a better, peaceful world and become people who are part of the solution and refuse to be part of the problem” (Pope Pius XII)

December 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm
(11) Gina says:

We’ve always kept our tree up until Epiphany since I was a child. With our own daughter, though, we celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas…even though she’s now grown! She gets her big present and stocking (from Santa) on Christmas morning…LOL!! Then she gets a small present from up each of the 12 days through January 6th. She went to Catholic school through 8th grade (there’s still no Catholic high school in our area, although one is being commissioned) and even some of those kids didn’t realize that The 12 Days of Christmas led to Epiphany; they thought they were before Christmas!!

December 11, 2013 at 7:03 am
(12) Monica Radey says:

As with all other celebrations of saints on their feast day, we celebrate St. Nicholas or “Santa Claus” on the 6th of December (with stockings, colouring pages, crafts and special prayers). I have an overwhelming desire to completely separate “Santa” from the birth of our Lord. Not that St. Nicholas is not well deserved of his place in our hearts, but he is being used as a pawn of distraction from The Birth and that cannot be at all pleasing to him or God. The truth has to be the Truth.
As well, with the suggestion of Scott, our 6 children are enjoying the thoughts of our second year celebrating all 12 days of Christmas by opening one gift each day…they love it!

December 11, 2013 at 9:24 am
(13) Patti.RCIA says:

One way I celebrate Advent is to sign all my emails, “May the peace and joy of Christ be with you today and always, especially during this Advent season of preparing the way to His coming.”

My teen daughter & I will be putting our tree up this Sunday (Gaudete Sunday) and leaving it up until after Epiphany. The nativity will be put under the tree, but the only characters will be the animals; the donkey, Mary, Joseph & Jesus won’t be there until Christmas Eve… and the wise men won’t be there until Epiphany.

December 12, 2013 at 1:04 pm
(14) Kathy says:

I am finding that the ONLY ‘War’ on Christmas or any other Christian celebration in this country (USA) is the one being waged by the retailers with the rampant consumerism evident in our society.
Christmas is based on the Pagan holiday Saturnalia and is not really a Christian holiday at all.
Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, this is NOT a Christian nation! Our Founding Fathers wanted a SECULAR nation where ALL would be welcome! Why are Right-wing Christians so against this?
Jesus warned about this exclusive attitude: “Suffer the little children to come to me…” and also reserves to HIMSELF the right to decide who enters His kingdom. Matthew 7:21 “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

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